Most people understand by now that links have a very real influence on rankings in search engines. How it works and in which ways a link can influence your ranking is often unclear though, resulting in many myths. This link building 101 tries to explain the basics of link building and to refute some of the myths around it.
How does a link help your site?
A link to your site “helps” in four ways:
- It adds value to the “receiving page”, allowing it to improve its visibility in the search engines.
- It adds value to the entire receiving domain, allowing each page on that domain to improve its rank ever so slightly.
- The text of the link is an indication to the search engine of the topic of the website and more specifically the receiving page.
- People click on links, resulting in so called “direct traffic”.
The value of a link for the receiving page is determined in part by the topic of the page the link is on. A link from a page that has the same topic as the receiving page is of far more value than a link from a page about an entirely different topic.
On top of that, a link from within an article is worth way more than a link from a sidebar or a footer. Furthermore the more links there are on a page, the less each individual link is worth.
So what makes a good link?
Imagine, you’re working on a link building campaign for this Link Building 101 post and you get to choose where to place a link and what page to point it at. You’ll have to consider the following questions:
- How strong is the site / page that’s going to link out?
- Which receiving pages on my site make most sense as far as topic is concerned?
- Which page of this set of sensible pages would deliver the best ROI when it’s ranking?
- Which page is most sensible for the visitor of the linking page, clicking on the link?
The last question is often the one best to ask of yourself: link building delivers, if done well, better rankings and more direct traffic. You have to keep in mind though that in most cases those visitors coming to you directly from the other site will behave differently from people coming from the search engines. Say you get a link from a site aimed at elderly women, these people will behave drastically different from the diverse public you’ll get from the search engine when the page starts ranking. In your design of the page, you’ll have to account for both.
How strong a site and/or a page is, can be judged on several criteria, PageRank being one of them, though often not very accurate. MozRank is useful at times, but the most useful and sensible check often is the following: does the page that you want a link from, rank in the top 20, 30 or even 50 for terms related to the page you’d want it to link to? If the answer to that is yes, a link on that page is usually a good idea.
Link Building 101: The anchor text
If you’ve decided which page you’re going to be linking to, the second question arises: which anchor text will you be using? The anchor text in itself influences two things:
- The anchor text indicates to the search engine what the topic might be of the page the link points at and it can therefor help that receiving page rank for that term. If you want to rank for “WordPress SEO”, you’d want to have links to that page with anchor texts like “WordPress SEO”, “SEO for WordPress”, etc.
- The anchor text also has an effect on how many people will be clicking on the link. While from the above bullet you might have gathered that “click here” is a horrible anchor text, as you probably don’t want to rank for it, it does tend to get clicked well and therefor gets you more visitors.
Of course, don’t overdo this. If all links, or a too large percentage of links to your site and / or page have the same anchor text, you’ll look like a spammer. So if you’re actively link building, vary your anchor text.
As you see, these are not trivial decisions, ones you have to make on a site by site and page by page basis. You don’t always have the luxury of controlling anchor text and to be honest, that’s a good thing; way too much sites out there would have a far over optimized “link profile” if they had such a level of control. Because you have to make these decisions on a site by site basis, buying a “backlink package”, something still far too common these days, is often a wrong decision.
Link Building 101: Are there any rules about links?
There are two kinds of rules that influence SEO and thus link building. First of all, there are the rules of the search engines, with Google having said most about links. Then there’s the law about advertising, these laws differ per country but especially within the EU they tend to have the same “ring”.
What Google says about links and link building
In their article on link schemes Google gives some examples of links that can influence your ranking negatively. This deals with both links to and from your site (f.i.: don’t link to spam sites). They’re most clear about paid links though: they’re a violation of their guidelines and can lead to a ban of your website.
This isn’t to say that such links would have an immediate negative effect. In fact, in the short term they might even boost your rankings, as quite often Google has to take manual action to discount those links, as not in all cases Google see whether a link has been paid for or not. But, especially keeping in mind the recent debacles with JC Penney and Overstock.com, both of whom have been penalized by Google and publicly scolded for their behavior by the press, this tactic is seldom worth while.
Google recently published an article on quality links on the Google Webmaster Blog, it’s worth reading to get their perspective.
The law about links
I’ve talked about the Dutch specifics in an article on Marketingfacts recently, which in trun goes back to an article on eConsultancy: if something is an ad, it has to be visibly (for the visitor) marked as such. A paid link could under these new rules be called an ad and would therefor have to be disclosed. I don’t see a court case just yet, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
Link Building 101: Read More
Outside of this link building 101 a lot is being written about the topic and a large part of it is, excusez le mot, crap. Because of that I’d like to point you at some sources that I do consider worth while:
The blog of my fellow countryman Wiep Knol, an amicable guy and great link builder.
Eric Ward aka LinkMoses
When I went to my first class in high school in ’94, this guy was already doing link building. His insights are therefor based on a treasure trove of experience.
LinkSpiel by Debra Mastaler
She has more of a wider marketing approach to link building and is therefor very usable for each and everyone.